Over – the – counter (OTC) medications are believed to contain safe dosages of active ingredients and to have a low risk of complications.
A sleeping pill, also commonly called a sleep aid, is a drug that helps a person fall asleep or remain sleeping. Disorders such as insomnia (inability to sleep) are widespread, and drugs to induce sleep have been used since ancient times. However, many OTC drugs use powerful agents that, if taken in large quantities, could be equal in strength to prescription-only medications.
Over – the – counter sleep aids or supplements may help when stress, travel or other disruptions keep you awake. But if you have chronic insomnia, the best approach is usually lifestyle changes. On the herbal side, there’s valerian root, chamomile, passionflower, humulus lupulus, melatonin, and so on. Nobody seems to know how these work for sure. Various OTC sleep aids are available in any pharmacy.
Most of these medications contain antihistamines, which can cause drowsiness. Yet, paradoxically, antihistamines may also cause nervousness and insomnia, especially in the elderly and young children, groups known to be more sensitive to medications in general. The most common are benzodiazepines (Xanax, Halcion), which work by boosting a neurotransmitter called GABA. Although antihistamine-based medications may improve mild symptoms of insomnia for a short period of time, they are not likely to help for longer than a couple of weeks. Melatonin has a number of side-effects: the more common ones are diarrhoea, abdominal pain and headaches; less frequently reported are nightmares, morning grogginess, fuzziness, nausea, mild depression and low sex drive. As melatonin can also interact unpredictably with other drugs, it should not be taken with immunosuppressants (such as azathioprine and cyclosporin), corticosteroids (such as prednisone), antianxiolytics, narcotic painkillers like codeine, sedatives, psychiatric medicines, antiseizure drugs, muscle relaxants or antihistamines such as diphenhydramine, or sedative herbs such as valerian or kava.
Sleeping potions were some of the earliest drugs discovered, and sleep aids are still among the most widely used drugs today. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians used the extract of the opium poppy to induce sleep.